Costco sued over alleged chicken mistreatment

SEATTLE — Wholesale behemoth Costco has been sued by animal rights groups over alleged mistreatment of chickens it raised and sold as $4.99 rotisserie-grilled chickens.

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Legal Impact for Chickens, a “litigation nonprofit dedicated to making factory-farm cruelty a liability,” filed the lawsuit with Animal Law Offices on behalf of two Costco shareholders, Food & Wine reported.

According to The Washington Post, Costco cultivated its own Midwestern supply network to wean itself off major poultry producers and better control the price and size of its in-house chickens.

In 2021, however, international nonprofit animal protection organization Mercy for Animals targeted Costco with an undercover investigation of a Nebraska barn in which the group claimed to have found overcrowded birds, some with open sores, “sitting in their own feces because they were too top-heavy to walk,” the Post reported.

The lawsuit, filed June 13 in Seattle, alleged that Costco’s poultry operations – specifically its $450 million poultry complex in Fremont, Nebraska – violate animal welfare laws in both that state and Iowa, claiming “breach of fiduciary duties” by the company’s executives and directors through their “illegal neglect and abandonment” of animals at its Nebraska chicken processing plant.

Richard Galanti, Costco’s chief financial officer and executive vice president, told the Post via email that the company would have no comment. Galanti is one of the 17 named defendants, which also include Ron Vachris, president and chief operating officer; W. Craig Jelinek, chief executive officer; and Hamilton E. James, a billionaire businessman and Costco board chairman, the newspaper reported.

Alene Anello, president of Legal Impact for Chickens, decried the “grim existence for animals in Nebraska who are warehoused in inescapable misery,” CBS News reported.

Meanwhile, shareholder plaintiffs Krystil Smith and Tyler Lobdell accused the company’s leadership in their suit of blind addiction to cheap poultry in the name of the massively popular Kirkland Signature rotisserie chicken, which sell for $4.99 each, the Post reported.

“If Costco continues its illegal mistreatment of chickens, it risks undermining its long-running and successful traffic-generation strategy,” the lawsuit stated. “As more consumers learn of the mistreatment of Costco chickens, the benefits reaped using loss-leading rotisserie chickens to drive customer traffic and purchases . . . will vanish or greatly diminish because consumer preferences to not buy products made illegally or unethically will trump the lure of a ‘cheap’ chicken.”

Costco sold 106 million rotisserie chickens in 2021, CBS News reported.

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